I’m not a full blown prepper, per say. I have a small Go Bag with some basic items like water purification tablets, clothing, a couple boxes of ammo, first aid kit, etc. During a discussion with a local group about essential items, one thing kept coming up: Communications. A friend then showed me his little Baofeng UV-5R handheld radio, sat me down and started explaining why it was a wonderful bugout radio. I ordered my own that night. Now that I’ve had it for a couple months, I’ve run it through it’s paces and made my decision on if this will be in my bugout bag or not.
NOTE: to use this radio on Ham frequencies in a non-emergency, you need your Ham license. This will be written from a SHTF POV and not from the view of an experienced Ham operator that would understand how most of the features already work.
When my radio came, it included the main radio, an earpiece mic, a rechargeable battery pack, rubber ducky antenna, charging dock, wrist strap, belt clip and the most useless manual ever .
I screwed on the antenna, found a small phillips head screwdriver to attach the belt clip, tossed on the wrist strap, clipped in the battery and finally set it in the charging dock. Total time, about 5 minutes. While the battery charged, I opened up the manual. About 5 minutes later I was googling how to program the unit because the manual was pretty damn useless. I came across this site and boy, it’s been a lifesaver: http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/ It helped me understand the menu options, how to program it and everything else about the radio.
Once the unit was fully charged, I set about learning it’s features and start programming it with some basic frequencies.
Features for the average user
This radio is a dual band HAM radio, and operates in the frequency ranges of 136-174 and 400-480MHz (2 meter and 7cm bands). That means you have access to the 2 most popular radio bands for Ham – perfect for SHTF situations. It also handles FRS (family walkie talkies) and GMRS (advance version of FRS basically that is for commercial use and requires a license) frequencies.
The radio can also listen to normal FM radio broadcast – I often use it for listening to local music broadcasts while I’m walking the dog around the neighborhood. This is extremely useful for making sure you can be kept in the loop with news reports, announcements or even just entertainment to keep from being bored.
The radio can also monitor two frequencies, so you can keep it on your normal comms channel and still listen in on another. This is incredibly useful when you consider that the frequencies this radio handles means it can be used as a scanner to monitor police, fire, airport and other municipal communications. Yet another important feature in a disaster situation.
It even has a built in flashlight – always handy.
Programming the radio
This is the one crappy part about the radio. Sigh. So programming it via keypad isn’t the easiest thing to do, and if I had to program a bunch of channels, I absolutely would NOT do it via the keypad. I can do it pretty easily now, but it’s tedious as hell. Instead, what I do is use a USB cable (sold separately) and a free program named “Chirp”. Just hook up the cable, turn the radio on, and then tell Chirp to download the radio’s configuration. Edit the configuration and this time telling chirp to send the configuration to the radio. Tada!
I set channel 1 to NOAA (and have it configured to skip it during Scanning mode), channel 2 is my groups primary channel and then most of the rest are repeaters in my area. Some channels I have set aside for use as a Scanner – I have the police, fire, airport, etc, all configured for that (and using Chirp I was able to turn off transmitting for those channels, so I can’t do it accidentally).
Using the radio
In simplex mode, direct radio to radio, I get between 1-3 miles, depending on obstacles, height, etc. Using a repeater though, I can hit close to 30 miles so far. That said, get rid of the rubber ducky antenna that it comes with and add a Nagoya NA-771 or similar antenna for better performance.
People hear me loud and clear, and I hear them the same. I generally set Channel A to be my group’s channel and often set Channel B to Scan mode so that if Channel A becomes active, I’ll hear it. On my nightly dog walks around the neighborhood, I tend to activate the FM radio function and listen to some music – what’s nice is if a broadcast comes up on Channel A or B while doing this, it’ll fade out the music and let me hear the broadcast. Shortly after the broadcast is over, it’ll fade my music back in. Nice. And this thing has a flashlight – very useful on my walks!
This is an awesome SHTF/Bug Out radio. It’s cheap at about 1/3 the cost of other similar radios, it works well, has a lot of features, comes with accessories and handles the frequencies you will want in an emergency. I only wish it were waterproof, and was easier to program via keypad, but that’s about it. Overall, this radio is a win.